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What Are the Pros and Cons of Hernia Mesh?

By C. Webb
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The biggest pros of a hernia mesh, which is a surgical tool used to help heal hernias, is their flexibility; these tools are usually able to move and bend with the patient, providing a very easy recovery and healing period in most cases. They’re also relatively easy to use, and the insertion procedure doesn’t usually have complications. There are some drawbacks, though. Mesh that is left in place for too long can sometimes cause problems with nearby organs, as bodily tissues can actually grow into the material. Material erosion is sometimes a risk, too. People with mesh shields in place usually have to undergo regular check-ups and scans, and may need periodic “upkeep” surgeries to replace the mesh and make sure it’s still serving its purpose. It’s usually a good idea for patients to weigh both the risks and the possible benefits when making a decision about whether these tools might be right for them.

Hernia Basics

Hernias occur when one of the body’s organs presses into a place where it shouldn’t be. Sometimes hernia bulges are visible outside the body, but a lot of this depends on where the problem occurs. For example, a stomach hernia happens when the intestines protrude through the abdominal wall, and these usually are noticeable externally, but a hiatial hernia, which is when the stomach protrudes up into the esophagus, usually is not.

Injuries and strains are the biggest cause of hernias, but sometimes things like stress, chemical blood imbalances, and genetic defects can also contribute. The condition is usually very uncomfortable, and surgery is often one of the only effective corrective actions. Mesh, in turn, is one of the most effective surgical repair techniques.

Historically, hernia repair involved covering or strengthening the wall hole, using various materials. Throughout the years, plastic and metal coils were tried but were widely determined to be not flexible enough; on top of this, most also carried a high risk of infection. Mesh patches or screens became popular in the 1960s with the advent of synthetic material like plastics.

Ease of Use

Plastic or synthetic mesh is generally really easy for surgeons to work with, which is often one of the most compelling “pros.” It can be cut to whatever size is needed, so surgeons and other medical technicians can design a mesh specifically for a certain patient. In most cases the material bonds to natural body tissues easily, too, and it’s not usually very expensive for either the patient or the practitioner. This is not to say that procedure as a whole is inexpensive; these sorts of surgeries can and often are quite pricey. The raw materials, though, tend to be fairly economical.

Flexibility

Hernia meshes are extremely thin and flexible. This allows them to move with the body and not become stiff or cause discomfort. The materials used to manufacture the mesh are very thin, too, which helps them more readily simulate natural body tissues. While the material is thin, it is very strong, which gives it longevity. People who undergo mesh procedures for hernias don’t usually need to go in for reinstallations nearly as often as people using older technologies or patches made of other materials.

Possible Intestinal and Organ Damage

Many of the most serious complications are specific to the location of the hernia. Intestinal loops adhering to the surgically placed mesh have been observed in a number of patients, but usually only in cases of hernias in or near the bowels. In these instances, the intestinal wall bonds so well to the mesh that it actually starts growing into it, with the end result that it grows basically into and on top of itself. This typically requires additional surgery to correct.

Injuries to organs near the implanted mesh have also been reported. Pelvic organ prolapse, for instance, can happen with meshes installed in the lower digestive tract. This typically leads to problems with bladder and bowel function.

Erosion Concerns

Many of the reported complications with hernia mesh come from mesh material erosion. Some countries and jurisdictions have very rigorous standards for what, exactly, mesh material suppliers can make their products out of — but not all do. As such, there is sometimes a wide variety of different products that all look more or less the same, at least on first on glance. If a mesh isn’t made of truly durable synthetics, or if it is prone to dissolution or wear when exposed to things like harsh stomach acid, people often experience issues.

There are also some complications that may have more to do with where the mesh is placed than the material itself. Vaginal scarring and pain during sexual relations are problems women have encountered with meshes inserted in their reproductive tract, for instance.

Weighing the Risks and Benefits

Anyone considering the pros and cons of a hernia mesh is usually wise to talk about the procedure with a healthcare expert. Scheduling a question-and-answer session with the surgeon who will be performing the procedure can also be a good idea. The true risks and benefits are often somewhat unique to each patient, so talking things over face-to-face can be a good way for people to get a more personalized sense of what to expect.

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Discussion Comments
By anon345865 — On Aug 23, 2013

I had the mesh op four months ago, and I got a hernia after my kidney was removed. I am now in agony on my left side where the op took place. I went to see the surgeon who told me that the mesh has moved and that the screws are now digging into my ribs. He has told me to take strong pain killers and try to take things easy, but he is in no hurry to correct this and I am in total agony and off my work again. Can I make him take it back out because I would rather have the hernia than this pain.

By anon301489 — On Nov 04, 2012

I still have questions on how long the mesh lasts, and what happens to it as you gain weight?

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